In this crazy time of COVID, I found myself on a hiking trail last week thinking about passion projects. It was a pretty day, the forest trilling with birdsong, the leaves on the trees that new, tentative green that only exists in the spring.

My dog Tilly and I were on the Eagle Scout Trail out in Nancy, Ky. It’s named after the Boy Scouts who walked the forest and established a path back in the 1970s. It’s since been lengthened and fortified, with the help of grants and engineers and, yep, more Boy Scouts. The boys are responsible for building most of the wooden bridges along the trail to help hikers and mountain bikers avoid wet and muddy terrain.

As I walked, marveling over trilliums blooming in the forest, it made me think of all the improvements Eagle Scout projects have made in our area. I love the idea that the boys can only graduate to scout status once they have completed a significant service project. I remember writing about one aspiring scout when I was a reporter at The Sentinel-Echo. Mac Kern decided to host a 5K back when 5Ks were nearly unheard of. Its proceeds benefitted the local homeless shelter and, bonus, promoted wellness in the community.

Anyway, that’s what landed me thinking about passion projects and how many opportunities there are for them, especially in this time of COVID. In fact, I bet there are projects blooming like trilliums just about everywhere right now.



For those unfamiliar with the term “passion project,” or for those who have dismissed it as a corny, new-agey endeavor, let me explain. Actually, let me borrow this definition from the website Daring to Live Fully:

“A passion project is an activity or enterprise that you decide to take on — usually in your spare time — in order to gain some benefit for yourself. That is, it’s a challenge that you willingly embrace because you hope to gain something from it.”
That can translate into anything, from taking tap dancing lessons to learning how to care for bonsai to learning Portuguese to setting up a community garden. One cool project is from Shannon Byrne, who created A Song A day, a website that emails subscribers daily music suggestions. Another is Jim’s Pancakes, a blog showing pictures of the pancakes Jim Belosic, founder of Shortstack, made for his daughter.
As in Mac Kern’s 5K and Byrne’s undertaking, passion projects often benefit others. But, then, that’s how passion usually works; creek-like, it tends to spill over.


There are lots of good reasons for a passion project. You get to learn about a subject. You often get to help and work with others. You get to learn about yourself. You can sometimes even pinpoint what you want to pursue (or not pursue) as a career.

And then you get to write about it in your admissions essay or personal statement.

I can tell you for certain that writing about a passion project is the equivalent of admissions gold. Your reader is able to learn about you by what you accomplished, which is the very definition of being able to show and not tell about yourself. That means you can:

  • Showcase how your brain works
  • Demonstrate your leadership, communication skills, initiative and commitment
  • Show your personality
  • Write about your worries and doubts
  • Write about your “why”
  • Tell us about your strengths and your weaknesses

And you can do all of this while remaining honest, detailed, and humble.

Most importantly, if you have a passion project, it’s generally something you care deeply about. And when people write about something for which they have passion, they tend to write well.

What’s more, not everyone can pull off a passion project. They just don’t have the chutzpah to do so. So, in that regard, a passion project separates the men from the boys.


Here are links to sites that showcase dozens and dozens of ideas for passion projects:

As you scan the options, remember: this is about you, not your school application. This is about doing something that is important to you, that you care about, that you want to know more about. This is about your passion, not anyone else’s. So, as you scan, make sure you keep your interests at the forefront of your search. And forge your own path.


Being that we’re in the time of COVID, there is a lot of need in our communities right now. We also have a lot of time on our hands, especially with school canceled. That means you have all the opportunity in the world to find your passion — and make a splash. Trillium-style.

If you have any questions, know I’m always here at tara@swayessay.com.